In August of 1999 the University of Nevada, Reno, rugby team gained an 18-year-old junior Eagle from Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose, Calif., to add to its repertoire of talented stars. In the past four years, Chris Clever has proven his talent day by day. He is a leader on and off the field. The rest of the Clever family are also patrons of the sport. His parents still reside in San Jose but attend every one of his games. His 19-year-old brother was recently recruited from UNR to the USA Eagles, our national rugby team. Now a 22-year-old senior at UNR, Clever is looking at his last year of college rugby but is yearning for an opportunity to enjoy the sport a bit more before he enters a definite career. The 9-year veteran has played all over the United States and in Australia, England, Canada and, most recently, South Africa. He currently is contemplating the acceptance of an invitation to play in Singapore.
How did you end up playing rugby in South Africa?
I was down there studying at the university in Cape Town, which is about the size of UNR with 15,000 students, of which 3,000 were ruggers. My one claim to fame is that I worked my way up to play on their third-side team. It was an honor because I was the first American to ever do so.
So it sounds like rugby is a pretty big deal to South Africans.
Rugby is the national sport of South Africa. Their love of the game is comparable to our patronage of basketball, baseball and football combined.
How was the university in Cape Town different than UNR?
One thing that surprised me was that girls outnumber guys two to one. Once I made the team, I was treated like a king. Drinks were on the house everywhere we went. People looked up to us and respected us; even the females admired us, which is very different here in the states.
So, how is rugby viewed differently in the United States than it is in other countries?
The perception most Americans have of rugby tends to be a lot less accepting. We get labeled as beer-guzzling heathens. It’s like all we do is spit beer at parties and tackle each other in the mud. In reality, we are a self-funded entity. We have to work very hard to support the sport. Our team costs run up and over $55,000 a season, most of which comes out of our own pockets. We try to get sponsors, but it’s such a new sport in Nevada that people and companies are reluctant to help.
What’s with being invited to Singapore?
The men’s provincial-side invited me to go and play a rugby touring tournament in Singapore. It’s in November. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it. I’ve been pretty busy with school.
What’s your degree? And what are your plans for the future?
I’m studying political science, and I’m working on my minor in marketing. I want to play rugby as long as I can, but after that I don’t know. It’s kind of up in the air. It depends on how things go with rugby, what team I end up playing for. … But I would like to travel more while I am young and have the opportunity.